Learner’s Permit

Our youngest has gotten his learner’s permit and is starting classes and practices driving (with my husband and I first, and the driving instructor later on). The first drive he was understandably nervous.

First lessons with our boys started the same way — in a relatively empty parking lot, and alternate with a nearby community college that has even more empty space when school is out. We get them in the drivers seat, talk about the seat belt, seat and mirror positions, the controls (park, drive, reverse), and foot position — drive with one foot going between the gas, brake and emergency brake, before we start any driving.

The first lesson, with my youngest, was at the nearby community college. We had gone through the basics and he was ready to start his drive. He let his foot gently off the brake and we started to move forward. He drove in a straight line and I asked him to stop as we neared where he’d need to start a turn. I showed him how to turn the wheel and he did well. We continued to drive slowly around the parking lot. Early lessons are normally short (15-20 minutes in length) — for both our son’s sanity (his nerves are high), and my husband’s and mine (our nerves are pretty high too, though we try to mask them and appear we’re cool and collected). My son started to drive again, this time applying a little more pressure to the gas pedal. We were going relatively slow but when he came around the corner he over corrected and was driving towards the curb where some trees were. When I saw him start to panic, in my mind I said, “brake, brake, brake!”, but after he came to a stop up on the curb (but thankfully not in the trees) he said I said, “whoa, whoa, whoa!” 😬 My words added to his panic (clearly not my intention). Thankfully no damage was done, we and the car were fine. We concluded the lesson following.

On the drive back home we talked about the drive — what my son felt good about and what he needs to work on (based on what we practiced). My son gave me some good pointers in how I can better help him in the future. “Mom, my brain works differently. Hand gestures put my brain on overload. You telling me what I need to do is more helpful.” I love how clear my kid-on-the-spectrum is. It never occurred to me how teaching him to drive would be different from my older son. While driving on the curb scared us both, his ability to give me feedback to better help him made me feel more confident to help him succeed. Another time as the parent I’ve also become the student. While I have my drivers license I only have my learner’s permit in teaching my son. I need his feedback, regardless the situation, to be a better driving instructor, better supporter, better advocate, and better parent.

What are learning from your child? How is your child helping you be better?

Driver’s Test

I was driving to work one day when it happened. I was near a tunnel entrance and decided to change lanes. I put my blinker on, checked my mirrors, looked over my left shoulder to make sure I had plenty of room, and then moved over. The car I pulled in front of clearly did not like my decision to change into their lane. They weren’t going especially fast prior to me changing lanes, and they didn’t run up on me, so how did I know they were upset? Because they threw on their high beams, and kept them on for the next three miles. The first chance to pass me, they did. They pulled up beside me and attempted to get my attention. I decided it would be best not to make eye contact, because I figured it would only make things worse. After the driver realized I wouldn’t take the bait, they sped off. I still have no idea what I did to provoke such a reaction.

I reflected on my decision to change lanes earlier. Had I done something wrong?  I had plenty of room to change lanes I checked a couple of times prior to moving over. What was I missing?

Then I thought I wonder what’s been happening with that other person today.  Did they have a rough night of sleep, or are they stressed out about a meeting, or did they get into an argument with a loved one before leaving?  I don’t know what caused them to get so upset, but I have to believe their mood didn’t have much to do with me. I think my lane change was their last straw.

I think about myself as a driver. While I like to think of myself as a calm and compassionate person most of the times, I must admit that gets tossed out the window when I get cut-off or have a bad encounter with another driver. I sometimes think is this some sort of test (of my patience)? It feels like I’m being purposely disrespected or dismissed, like the other person believes they are entitled, or that their needs or wants are more important than mine. And perhaps I’m onto something with this belief, but think it’s only a small part of it.

Prior to having children, I would mutter four-letter words under my breath or make hand gestures below the dashboard when I got in these situations.  It was my way of getting some of the frustration or anger out, without making the situation worse. Since having kids I’ve had to rethink my responses. Kids are constantly watching what we do. Sometimes when a drive does something I don’t like I’ll say, “Come on friend” to which my sons will ask, “who are you talking to? They’re not your friend?” I’ll explain that it helps mom calm down when she talks about someone as her friend. I’ll also try to explain what’s going on. “I’m frustrated because I want to get home and this person is holding us up. It’s not their fault, they might just be having a bad day.” Having this conversation with my kids requires me to practice patience, being aware of my actions and words, and using it to teach—not always easy to do.

I’m not sure how much I’m getting through to my kids, but I’m hoping that they are able to handle traffic a little bit better than I do when they get older. My sense is people will continue to cut each other off, and drivers will continue to get frustrated with one another.  I can’t control what others do, but I can certainly control my actions and prepare my children for how to deal with drivers when they encounter similar situations in the future.

Thank goodness they won’t be ready for their drivers licenses for many more years. I still have time.

How do you handle frustrating drivers?